Archive for March, 2013

Where the mosques are beautiful Part 1)

Second day

It was time for blue mosque! In Myanmar, we could not get into any mosque to my knowledge. I guess even female Muslims cannot get into the mosque (might be wrong, not too sure). That was why I had been so excited to get into the mosque.  It was huge as a typical building in Istanbul.

Blue Mosque Istanbul

That was my favourite shot for Blue Mosque. Just like a castle in the fairy tales.

I think many people in Myanmar have entered into a Church but I have not. But majority of them might not have been into a mosque but I have! Yeah!

Blue Mosque Istanbul

It’s that big!

Blue Mosque Istanbul.

Just corner view.

Then we had coffee at a local coffee shop, I ordered Iced Turkish coffee – in such a cold weather. *wink*. The cute part was that I had been wondering why they gave me two spoons before I found out that it was a stick of chocolate!

Chocolate Spoon

Iced Turkish Coffee and Chocolate Spoon!

On the way to dinner, I told my new Indian friend that my great grandpa was from India. Guess what he replied. “Oh, my grandma is from Burma, too!” Wow!

The dinner was fun and I felt too full after it.

Third Day

Aka last day. It was the time I had to go to a bazaar to buy something! And yes, we went to spice bazaar which gave me a completely different experience from other average shopping spaces. The sad thing was that there was not too much difference between using Singapore dollars and Turkish lira which means I couldn’t buy many things though I would love to.

Spice Bazaar Istnabul

Crowd at Spice Bazaar

I bought a chess board for my boyfriend – mostly the same thing that I bought for him from Nairobi. And I made up my mind to buy only chess boards (if possible) wherever I go. 😛 On top of that, I bought 10 key chains and 5 bracelets for my cousins, friends and colleagues. Choosing all those different designs and touches was a fun part.

The are a tons of different spices and some interesting things such as rose oil etc. The atmosphere was pretty different from Asia countries which made me feel excited. It was not too fanciful yet I couldn’t get my eyes off from anything. When I saw some traditional lamps, I felt like as if I was in Arab tales!

Istanbul Spice Bazaar

A spice shop.

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Since the Rohingya riot last year in June, the nation’s tragedy has drawn the world’s attention. The repeated riots leaves the world with doubt on the effectiveness emerging reforms. But recently, more violence – this time in Meikhtila, in the middle of Myanmar’s Mandalay Division – has captured headlines. Human rights watchdogs, Rohingya advocates and reporters have all rushed to condemn Buddhist extremists as the source of the tension.

The background of the latest clash between Muslims and Buddhists, however, is not as clear cut as is reported. Although it is reported to be sectarian in nature, the characteristics of the latest flair of violence are utterly atypical, and at worst, planned. An insecure public, the nature of the extremists and the announcement of a state of emergency are indicative of a regression from the still-ongoing transition towards democracy.

The immediate root cause of the riot was an argument over a broken gold piece at a goldsmith’s shop belonging to a Muslim man. After the owner had reportedly beaten up the Buddhist sellers, who were from a different town, the sellers cried for help. A crowd gathered, and the town erupted.

Propaganda spread both online and offline was swift and atrocious. Not only were false reports and fake images of dead bodies propagating, but also hateful anonymous comments towards Muslims poured in. Fake anti-Muslim (and some anti-Buddhist) accounts dedicated to spreading propaganda sprang up overnight. Several extremists inflamed the situation with racist content by linking the current flare-up back to last year’s riot between the Rohingya and Rakhine. Pro-military accounts worsened the situation by calling Aung San Suu Kyi and the leaders of the 88 Generation Students Group irresponsible.Curiously, riots coincidentally tend to occur in Myanmar during inbound and outbound trips of Myanmar leaders and important foreign guests. The infamous unrest in Rakhine State was sparked right before Aung San Suu Kyi’s trip to Europe on June 13, 2012. The Latpadaung Copper Mine crackdown, on the other hand,

Read More on Aljazeera

Or should I have titled it as “Tolerance and Respect” instead to make myself sounds like a optimistic stuffed with positive imagination where no sun sets?

I have been asking a question to myself.

I have to admit that my mindset on racism and discrimination is being changed from time to time. Being said, I am not one of those easy pickings to change my hypothesis with a note or two on Facebook. But then again, I could not answer the above question….. yet.

This starts from a personal feeling – an unpleasant mood when I read the headlines saying my people are not tolerant at all – which I wish to deny. Concurrently, I have been reading many hatred comments regarding almost everything on Facebook and I can’t even read some of those till the end as those are too much for my eyes to swallow. Then I think, rethink and rethink. Where on earth those hatred comments came from!?

Intolerant people. Yes, I agree. It obviously seems that at least half of people in Myanmar online community are intolerant. They are not fond of things that are against with their religion, thoughts that are in common with their belief and news that they believe affecting  the sustainability of their culture. For instance, you would see their Facebook flooding with screams and shouts after a news about shoes with Buddha images or a foreign couple acting weird at Shwedagon Pagoda. They think those are insults to the religion they believe in, threats to what they value and humiliation to their culture that they have been grown up with. When it hurts their feelings, they couldn’t shut their mouth. They become to believe that silence could kill their culture and religion. They think they should act before things are getting worse.

On the other hand, apparently, other people take them as intolerant people. For those who think Buddha’s face is just a decoration item, putting it on shoes or even on bikini is nothing harmful. It’s not even a question. They may use it for fun as they are not intending to insult anyone. They would think in a way that why Buddhists seem so angry if Buddhism is a peaceful religion. And they start to define those Buddhists as intolerant people because they cannot tolerate what people did to the symbols of their religion. Talking about Shwedagon, it is an incredible place. People who do not follow Myanmar cultural aspects closely might even take it as a picnic spot. They might question “What’s so wrong with lying down with revealing clothes, hugging each other with this stunning view of giant pile of gold?” Again, whoever criticize them become just intolerant people who do not have knowledge of other cultures and forms of freedom.

My own thoughts are mixed.

  • If people do not do any acts that could be an insult to another group of people in anyway, there would be no intolerance.
  • If people do not bother what others do to their culture and religion and ignore all the disrespect, there would be no intolerance.

6-2 is 4 while 2+2 is also 4. I am nowhere near to let people know what should be the way to go. For me personally, as long as I am a devoted Buddhist in my own opinion, I would ignore all those stuffs what people do to Buddha or Myanmar. I have seen a little kid on Instagram who names himself as “Shwedagon1”. When I pointed out that what would he feel if I name my Instagram account as “Catholic Church1”, he replied that those were two different things which left me speechless. I finally become to understand that west cultures is way too different from that of east that it would take a century or two to make them understand the way we think on religion or cultural related stuffs. If so, why should we bother to blame others for doing things that we have no control over?

I tweeted yesterday.

And a tweeversation had begun. I somehow mentioned that “not only govt but also public aren’t very willing to accept female political leaders. DASSK is exception.” And T replied that “it’s hard to believe that people in mm are not willing to elect a woman.” It is kind of sophisticated issue if we were to talk about gender discrimination in Myanmar and I would not be explain it all in 140 characters.  So I swang  to wordpress to express the things that I have been wanting to talk about.

Religion

Nearly 90% of population follow Buddhism thus almost all society values and cultural habits are based on Theravada Buddhism. To be fair, rather than religion itself, the social norms which they believe related to religion define what woman can or cannot do in Myanmar.

If you are a woman, you are not allowed to

  • go into closest area near the stupas/statues at the pagodas
  • partake gold to Buddha stupas/statues

When you want to offer gold leaf to Buddha, you have to request a man instead which always makes me annoyed. Such pointless notions were nowhere stated in Buddhism and some outspoken Buddhist monks have voiced out that prohibiting females from taking such actions are not as per what Buddha taught.

Buddhist nuns always have to take lower rank than monks. While it would be relatively easy to be offered alms for monks, nuns have difficulties to get offered cash and have to cook lunch themselves. Although a man who decided to join mankhood for his entire life is usually praised as a noble man, people believe those joined nunhoods are due to hardship of their lives most of the times and pay less respect than they give to monks.

Culture

We do not need to change our name after getting married not because women are treated very well but because we do not have surname or family name. Some men stated this is as the proof of treating women well in Myanmar which I totally disagree as there are a number of superstitions which discriminate women against men.

Majority of people

  • do not wash clothes of men and women together either in a washing machine or by hand.
  • believe man should not walk through wherever the sarongs, skirts, pants or anything that girls use to wear for their lower part of the bodies are being hung above.

Almost all Buddhists in Myanmar tend to believe that there is something called ဘုန်း /hpoun:/ which could be assumed as some kind of glory and influence of oneself or cumulative result of past meritorious deeds. If you have higher level of /hpoun:/, you are less likely to be able to be defamed and/or to live in hardship of life. Furthermore, many believe that men have higher level of /hpoun:/ thus they shouldn’t be in touch with Myanmar sarongs or any female clothes especially bras, underwears and others that are meant for lower part of the body which could ruin the /hpoun:/.

Some people do not allow woman in her menstruation cycle

  • to prepare pickles/Burmese fish paste etc. 
  • to touch Buddha statues at home

I know that kind of superstition is ridiculous. And strictly speaking, it has nothing to do with Buddhism. However, since it is an important belief that has being carried for centuries (?), we cannot possibly change it within a twist. And this /hpoun:/ thing is the very basic part of why men are regarded higher than women in Myanmar.

It is not commonly accepted that women should be allowed to smoke or drink as per their wish. Some men who enjoy doing those think it is against Myanmar tradition to see the women drunk or smoking in public. The way women dress is also a good topic to be hugely criticized by pointing out that the revealing clothes attract men to commit raping which makes no sense for me. The worst thing is when a girl was raped, people would finger to the victim girl for being slutty instead of supporting her and criticizing the rapist.

Society

Quite a while ago, husband was the only person who earn money to support the whole family. In modern days, almost everyone in families have to work to survive unless they were born from millionaire families. Years ago, while the husbands’ income was the only source of family’s earning, housewives do all the household chores. Cooking, Cleaning, Washing etc. were supposed to be done only by women which was quite reasonable to balance the workload between husband and wife.

But nowadays, while almost every women have to work full time, the whole society still suppose that household chores should be done only by women! It has been like an unwritten rule. Future mother-in-laws prefer to have daughter-in-laws who love and are skillful at those household chores. Only very few respectful husbands would like to help their wives on this and most of the times such husbands are teased among his colleagues and friends for paying too much respect on wives.

Not only in husband-wife relationship but also in a family, daughters are supposed to help with household stuffs, not sons. This might be a general thing everywhere especially in Asia countries. But my point here is that it is NOT true to say there is almost no gender discrimination in Myanmar than any other countries.

Education

When it comes to education, especially in rural areas, parents support sons over daughters to finish high school or to continue study at universities. Even in cities, some people believe that boys should learn more practical science subjects than girls. The ironic thing here is that girl students have to have higher marks in final high-school exam than boys to enter into top universities. For instance, if you are a boy, you have to have 459 marks to study Medicine while girls have to get 498 marks since girls in high-schools tend to get more marks than boys. But it becomes to be changed and I have read that there is not much difference for them in 2013 which I welcome eagerly!

Work

Some of male employees are not happy to work under female leadership which could be a general thing at every corner of the globe. But when a woman is leading a big organisation on her own feet in Myanmar, it is very easy to get criticized for the relationship with her male counterparts. If she was a single and dined out or travelled with a work partner, people might label as if they were in a relationship. If she was a married and did the same thing, perhaps she would receive a ton of criticism.

Due to military ruling, we did not have any female cabinet members for years. Thus, we are not used to have female leaders in widest part – the political industry. Women have once allowed to be part of army but it was revoked. And according to current constitution, president “shall be well acquainted with military affairs” which clearly states that a woman cannot be a president unless the constitution is modified. In addition, there are less than 5% of female member of parliaments.

As we all know, the ironic thing is that the only reliable leader in the country is the lady. While I have no doubt that many want her as a president though there are a few who would prefer current president over her, still, majority think men are capable than women especially for leadership. If there was someone similar to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in the sense of knowledge, attitude and experience, I guess people would vote him. At the very least, that is what I believe.

Self-discrimination

Unfortunately, that is the worst part. Just like self-censorship in journalism industry in some countries, a number of women in Myanmar seem to be self-discriminated. They always honestly believe that those unwritten rules are must-follows. They always prioritize fathers, husbands and sons in the family. During a meal, they would put the best part of the best dish to father’s plate. They usually help with their brothers’ laundry and do their dishes. I have even read a Facebook comment given by a girl saying “Laundary is a girl thing”. Even when girls are arguing with boys and if some boys are being persistent on what he think is right with one-sided opinion, they would say “Don’t act as if you were a woman!”. When they found a boy who they think is cowardly, they would say “Wear a hta mein(a sarong like clothes that is commonly worn by Myanmar women.) !”

I had seriously never ever thought of going to Istanbul.  And I learnt that Istanbul is not the capital of Turkey only after receiving the ticket. What a shame!

So, it started with so called Europe’s best Turkish Airline. (I will save it for next post.) Istanbul airport was okay. I do not usually feel cold in air plane so I did not wear anything apart from a t-shirt. Once I got out of the plane, I was like “Crap, that is cold, man!” Grabbing the jacket out immediately, I walked super quit with the hope that I would feel warm faster if I could leave the airport sooner which actually made no sense.

First day

The immigration officer seemed shocked to learn a Myanmar visits his country. He browsed through my passport. (I was not sure what he would think about my visa which I obtained 15 hours before departure. (Procrastination level 9!).  I looked for a man with “MIT” sign and greeted him. He told me to spend some time at coffee shop as we would need to wait one more who was arriving in a short while. I had exchanged some dollars before wasting some time by setting new highscore in Temple Run 2. After the girl arrived, we headed to hotel.

Istanbul Airport

Vodafone made me think the good old days of being a ManU fan.

Once the bus started its journey, my first feeling was “Oh, that is real Europe”. A westerner might not be able to feel it, but as a very Asian, the sceneries full of trees without a single leave, the whitish look and those buildings, that was too different from an average Asia country and that awesome/awful feeling of coldness could make me feel as if I was in a movie or pictorial book.

Istanbul

That’s already so Europe for me.

Long story short (thank god I feel like shortening it now!),  on the arrival day, before we went to AyaSofya – an orthodox church >> mosque >> museum, we had spent some minutes at a mini cafe of a small hotel. I tried Turkish coffee which was not as delicious as seeing the place it originated.

Turkish Coffee

That was not from that hotel. But I would say almost exact same thing.

Then, we continued our walk to AyaSofya. I mean, even for a Buddhist, that HUGE building with mixed culture definitely displayed its awesomeness. I kept murmuring “That’s great! That’s awesome!” to myself. Here you read thousands more words.

Near AyaSofya

Near AyaSofya.

AyaSofya

I felt like I was small by watching the ceiling.

AyaSofya

I didn’t quite know what those represented. But just shooting around.

AyaSofya

Watch it carefully. It will start rotate. (Nah! this is not such cheap sharing on Facebook and it will not rotate although it is in beautiful circular shape.)

AyaSofya

A hint showing it had been a church.

AyaSofya

Le cat!

Despite the grandeur inside, I preferred the way we see it from outside. That whitish buildings which I would never forget was so appealing that I never stopped taking pictures. I even wished like I could move there to reside for a short while. 🙂

We walked back to the hotel. I had had a quick nap and washed my hair first time during travel. I do not usually feel like washing my hair during short trip but the organic soap at the hotel looked attractive to try so I just did it. I knew that I had not brought enough warm clothes and felt the cold like hell walking to AyaSofya so I just wore like four layer of clothes when we went out for dinner. The Seabass at the dinner was yummy and I just realized that many people more than I think love Roti or flat bread. In Nairobi, in Istanbul, in Singapore or in Myanmar, it is everywhere.

Istanbul flat bread

This actually was from day 2 dinner.

That night, I felt the effect of different time zone yet had a good sleep with the feeling Istanbul was awesome!

[To be continued.]